Boss watched Zee out of the corner of her eye and tried to figure out what Ben saw in the analog besides a huge pair of fake breasts and weirdly shiny hair. Zee stood with perfect posture, hands gently folded in front of her despite her injuries, business suit crisp. Her stance adjusted as the elevator shuddered to a stop. A few people filtered past them and exited through the elevator doors as they slid open. Boss and Zee remained.
When she pictured his future as anything other than a violent death, Boss had always pictured Ben with someone more…earthy. Zee was like a star, cold and remote, but like a star seen from a distance, she lacked power. She had no personality, no will. Like all analogs. Just a pretty toy. Boss shook her head minutely. She hadn’t raised him to be so shallow.
After another stop, the elevator emptied. They were alone. Zee turned to her. “I thought you didn’t want Ben to fight in the Arena anymore,” she said. Boss blinked in surprise. The analog’s stance had shifted, relaxed. Her face became less cold, more human, flat blue eyes grew depth. It was as if a different person stood next to her.
Boss stared. “Huh?”
“You said you didn’t want him to fight. You made it clear and told me to report to you if he did,” Zee said. “Why did you change your mind? He’ll get hurt.”
Boss rolled her eyes. “I didn’t want him to fight for a pittance, get injured, and miss work that actually pays.”
She watched as Zee sifted through her words. Emotions flitted across the analog’s face like bird shadows across a field, then finally settled. She met Boss’s gaze. A feather of fear drifted through her eyes before the emotions scattered and she was nothing but a pretty, vacant toy again.
All she said was, “Right.” But the word felt heavy, bearing down on Boss’s shoulders. “What are we doing here?” Zee asked, the words vacantly cheerful.
The elevator slid open and Boss shook her head as she stepped into the hall. Zee blinked. Crosses lined the walls, rusted crosses, wooden crosses adorned in moss, tiny crosses of silver and gold, crosses made of railroad ties and fence posts. A collage of crosses. She caught up to Boss and followed closely behind. Boss looked over her shoulder and said, “We’re going to see if the church is interested in saving some souls.”
Earnest Weaver wore black, as required by the Church of the Cross. But he also liked black. He fiddled with a stylus and drew two circles next to each other on the large tab built into his desk. The older woman across from his desk talked. The younger remained silent, perfect. Analog. He added one dot in the middle of each circle.
He waved his hand and the older woman fell silent. “The Church would be happy to help you with your project, Ms.—”
“Call me Boss.”
“Ms. Boss—” Earnest began.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Earnest, ignoring the woman’s frustration. “How much do you want?”
“Fifty credits per body,” the younger woman said with blank eyes.
Earnest frowned, his jowls scrunching. “Thirty-five,” he said.
“Forty-seven,” said the analog.
“Meet me in the middle,” Earnest said, smiling.
“No,” said the analog. “Forty-eight.”
Earnest sputtered. “Fine, fine forty-seven.”
“That is acceptable,” the analog said.
Zee stared at the elevator door. Boss cleared her throat and shifted next to her. “They aren’t as bad as Schull and Sons,” Boss said. “They don’t condone necrophilia and they don’t incite the factions to fight as much as Schull.”
“They also don’t pay as much,” said Boss with a grumble.
Zee nodded again, but she didn’t speak.
“If we didn’t sign up with them, Harmon would, and she would create a lot more bodies than we possibly could. Schull would pay more, but it wouldn’t feel right. This is how it is done in Rust.” The volume of her voice increased. “We have nowhere to grow food, so this is the best way. Bodies make compost. Why shouldn’t I get paid for the bodies Ben and Hideki’s fight might happen to make? I could make more if I went to Schull, but I’m not.”
“You’re making a sacrifice,” Zee said, unable to keep her words from snapping.
Boss slapped her hand across Zee’s face so hard it drove the smaller woman into the wall of the elevator. “You don’t have the right to judge me, robot.” The word dropped into the silence like a dead body falling on the floor, thunking heavily, rotten.
Clutching the side of her face with a hand, Zee pressed herself into the wall. She’d been hit before. Lessors could do whatever they wanted to analogs as long as they didn’t cause permanent damage. No reprisals. No penalties.
She knew what to do. She lowered her gaze, hunched her shoulders. “You’re right,” she gasped. “I’m so sorry.”
Boss huffed and stepped back. “Sorry. Stand up.”
Zee straightened and lowered her hand. She went back to staring at the elevator door, barely listening to Boss.
“You’ll need to cover that up, of course,” Boss gestured at her face.
“Yes, of course,” said Zee, words dull.
If you like what you’ve read, you can make a one time donation through PayPal or support me at Patreon. Your patronage gets you additional scenes, sketches, drafts, and notes. Your support will allow me to keep writing. Read the next chapter on Wednesday, April 27th, 2016.